Publisher: Random House
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A beautiful island country that had achieved its independence from the British in a relatively peaceful manner and whose citizens enjoyed a peace and freedom that was rare in a world caught up in a gruesome war: “The Cage” by Gordon Weiss charters the sad story of Sri Lanka from this envious position to one of absolute ruin and tragedy. Today, the country remains a bloody reminder of how religious fundamentalism and ethnic conflicts can devastate an entire nation and its people.
Gordon Weiss is a journalist and former UN official who was a UN spokesman in Sri Lanka during the final months of the civil war. This book is an attempt to bring out the reality of the atrocities committed during the war by the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) and the Sri Lankan forces. Weiss does not just report on the war, he goes into the root, historical causes of the conflict between the majority Sinhalese and the minority Tamils, the circumstances that led to the birth of the LTTE and its growth into one of the most dreaded insurgent militant outfits the world has seen and the final crackdown on the LTTE by the Sri Lankan forces in 2008-09 that along with wiping out the militants also led to the death and displacement of hundreds of thousands of innocent Tamil civilians.
As I write this review, Britian’s Channel 4 has brought out some pictures and other evidence to show that the LTTE Chief Prabakharan’s 12-year old son was killed in cold blood by the Sri Lankan army. The revelation has once again ignited the issue of alleged war crimes that were committed by the Sri Lankan army and government in their war against the LTTE. While Weiss strongly criticizes the actions of the LTTE who scarred a whole generation of Sri Lankan Tamils by recruiting child soldiers in the war, started a trend of suicide bombings in the island country and in the later stages of the war used the very Tamils they were supposedly representing as human shields, his main grievance is towards the Sri Lankan government and army. The government has a responsibility of protecting its civilians and their war against the militants was conducted for the purpose of protection of its citizens. Through the war period and even after it, the government consistently denied allegations of war crimes while assuring the UN that their army was not involved in any untoward civilian deaths. During the war, the government restricted the reach of humanitarian aid through the UN and the Red Cross to the civilians trapped in the retreating “cage” between the army and the LTTE. They disallowed the entry of international press in the war zone while stifling their local press who dared to report against the government. “The cage” became an isolated zone with the sufferings of the trapped civilians hidden to the world outside. Weiss also reflects on the failure of the international community- be it the United Nations, the US government or the Indian government.
Gordon Weiss uncovers the truth behind the siege and gives us an account that condemns the Sri Lankan government, the LTTE and the international community as a whole that allowed hundreds of thousands of civilians to die helplessly. He does not just opine on the issue, but also corroborates consistently with evidence. “The Cage” remains one of the few books on the Sri Lankan conflict that is thoroughly unbiased and provides a vivid and detailed account of the reality of the sufferings of so many people in one of the longest civil wars in modern history.